16 Years of RPG Maker: 1 Game

I’ve worked with RPG Maker 2003, VX Ace, and MV for sixteen years now.

Yet I’ve only published a game once.

A dream from high school

When I was in high school, my family limited my time on the computer. They treated the Internet and Dungeons & Dragons like we-aren’t-sure-but-we’re-definitely-thinking Things of the Devil, so I made sure to enroll in computer arts courses from freshman through senior year. School was an opportunity to access a world on the other side of ludditesque fear.

Given the context, playing in RPG Maker 2003 felt the equivalent of a pastor’s daughter flipping through the New Age section at the bookstore.

I hope you understand when I say with all seriousness, I spent every inch of every moment of my alone time—at least, in my youth—building JRPGs to stick it to the man.

The only game I ever sold

I sold twenty copies of my first game my senior year, mostly during lunch breaks.

My game was called “World Next Door,” and it had fatal crashes in the third act. I couldn’t figure out how to fix my bugs. Fortunately, in my twenties, I spent a few years in quality assurance—so I learned to love the bugs that bite me—but in high school, I hated mistakes.

K-12 told me mistakes were bad.

…You get it.

Three years in community college

After lunch, I walked across the street to attend community college classes. I was more interested in learning new skills than fixing old stuff.

Since I never fit in with my peers, I liked how community college made room for me to feel weird. I didn’t bother applying for university; two-year schools swallowed me up, and I was happy in affordable academia’s whale-belly.

Three more years in university

Except, three-and-a-half years later, feeling the pressure of young adulthood, I moved on to Cal State Fullerton, where I finished a bachelor degree in English. And I accrued loans.

Damn it, I accrued—All. The. Loans.

In community college, I declared myself a psychology major; but honestly, I didn’t want to spend more brain juice trying to figure my family out. I dedicated a whole childhood to doing that. Studying English meant I could escape to fantasy worlds and never come back.

Two years in marketing firms

From Cal State Fullerton, I landed a desk job as a copywriter, jumped to another company as a copyeditor, then experienced a grueling lay-off, none of which my family knew had happened.

My expectations for a stable career, paid-off loans, and happily-ever-afters rose-and-fell, and I soothed myself with RPG Maker DS. “Duck the system,” my unpublished game said. “Quack.”

Before that, though—back in community college, while living with my ex—I fell down a rabbit hole with World of Warcraft. I spent long weekends with Persona games. Dungeons & Dragons upgraded to World of Darkness. Exploding fireworks in FantaVision, pounding my feet onto foam DDR mats, and spinning out in Mario Kart 64—video games were my Forever and Always, and nothing could change that.

I just can’t grow out of chocobo warks.

A year in the gaming industry

Thankfully, my continual obsession with gaming helped me recover from my lay-off.

After losing my job as a copyeditor, I applied as a tester at a Japanese localization company, and I was fortunate enough to join a team for a PlayStation 3 game. Later, I moved to the company’s online department, where I worked as a game master, localization editor, and community manager.

Wearing three hats meant I learned to write all sorts of interesting stuff, including but not limited to:

  • press releases
  • forum announcements
  • pre-formatted support tickets
  • terms of service
  • giveaways and contests

Those random writing projects were the primer that led me to graduate school.

Three years in graduate school

I wanted to study the craft of storytelling.

I visualized myself making the most marvelous visual novels and JRPGs.

Graduate schools wanted short stories as writing samples though, not game dialogue—and short stories felt alien. I could academic essay; I could journal; I could spin disjointed novels in the two-hundred-page range …but two pages? …do I have to?

So I returned to community college, completing a handful of creative writing and religious studies classes at Golden West College and Orange Coast.

When it came time to apply for graduate school, the applications and writing samples were daunting. Just trying to break into a program is a marathon. It didn’t help that my bachelor degree ended with a 2.99 GPA. In graduate school, I’d clock a 4.0 GPA, but try telling that to the admissions committee. Try claiming you can read your perfect future.

As autumn curled into winter’s lap, then waited for spring, I received 15 rejections and 2 acceptances. One of the acceptance letters led me to Fresno State, or Cal State Fresno—the other CSUF, four hours away from Cal State Fullerton—where I completed an MFA in Creative Writing with Emphasis in Fiction.

I met so many wonderful people. I adored professors and peers. My knowledge of social issues, poetry, and fine art expanded nearly as much as my specialty in storytelling. I learned how to teach. Best of all, I learned I was autistic.

During that time, I also toyed with RPG Maker VX Ace and finished nothing.

My thesis, an unpublished novel, felt like a big enough beast to slay.

There and back again

Now I’m a part-time instructor at Fresno City College. I’ve taught at other community colleges, too: Madera College; Clovis College; and College of the Sequoias. The California community college system opened the first doors to my educated life, so reinvesting into that institution feels like the most rewarding and privileged work I’ve ever done.

Still, I love building worlds in RPG Maker.

I’m currently creating a sci-fantasy JRPG in RPG Maker MV. While I’ve worked on it for about two years, I’ve only really leaned into it for the last six months. Since I’m nearly done with one of the stages, I’m thinking of challenging myself by completing a short game in a week—just to get something out there.

My greatest fear is that “World Next Door” is the only game I’ll ever finish.

A buggy game from sixteen years ago.